OCTOBER 22, 2011
JUST AS ANN CRITTENDEN brought us deep into the economic realities of child-rearing in The Price of Motherhood, Mary Romero’s quiet, revolutionary book Maid in America forced readers to really look inside the lives of domestic workers in this country. In her new book, The Maid’s Daughter, Romero is again the perfect scholar – respectful, curious, honest about her own orientation. She’s a listener, allowing the women she talks with to guide the way in which their stories are revealed. In 1986, then a professor in Texas (she now teaches at Yale), Romero met Olivia Maria Gomez Salazar, a 23-year-old Chicana student who approached Romero after hearing her speak on a panel on domestic workers. Over the next several years, Olivia told Romero her story. Olivia’s mother was a maid in Los Angeles. Olivia and her mother lived in the maid’s quarters of the house, located in a gated community. Olivia’s mother cleaned the house and cared for the family’s four children. From the age of 3 to 18, Olivia heard the phrase “just like one of the family.” By the end of The Maid’s Daughter, a reader realizes just how hypocritical, divisive, and thoughtless this common phrase can be. Romero looks at Olivia’s upbringing from many angles: the self-esteem issues, the guilt, the economic disparities, the hard labor, the question of who raises the maid’s child when the maid is raising her employer’s children, the sense of homelessness created by a lifetime in someone else’s home. After decades, when Romero calls Olivia’s mother so that she can finally meet her, she is struck by the fact that she is known only by her first name. She is also struck by the sadness and guilt Olivia’s mother feels, in spite of the conviction that she did what she had to do to give her daughter a future. It’s very moving work; thoughtful, sensitive, the best possible use of scholarship to open our eyes.